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Number of early voters minimal in local counties

HOUGHTON — Local counties reported light turnout in Michigan’s first in-person early voting period.

In 2022, Michigan voters approved Proposal 2, which created a nine-day period before Election Day where voters could cast ballots. It ran from Feb. 18 to Sunday.

Houghton County narrowly hit triple digits, reaching 100 voters shortly before polls closed on Sunday, said Clerk Jennifer Kelly.

“I didn’t know what to expect, since it was our first time … Since we have nearly 27,000 (registered voters), I was hoping we were going to be a little bit more busy,” she said.

Keweenaw County saw 21 in-person voters out of 2,102 registered in the county, said Clerk Julie Carlson. She called the early-person voting “a terrible waste of money.” That included the cost of three voting inspectors, who were paid $20 an hour during the daily nine-hour shifts.

“It would be great if it just applied to very busy areas, but for our rural areas … the highest day we had was seven people, and that was because there was workers that voted,” she said. “That’s a very boring day.”

Baraga County was at 69 votes over the nine-day period, said Clerk Wendy Goodreau. She credited L’Anse Township Clerk Kristin Kahler for running the early-voting operation for the county, which had gone smoothly, she said.

“We had a power outage Saturday night that impacted things a little Sunday morning, but not for long,” she said. “Baraga Telephone came and fixed our issues, and we were up and running right away.”

Statewide, more than 78,000 residents cast in-person early votes. About 20,000 were cast Saturday and Sunday, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said at a press conference Monday.

“What that also tells us is the more citizens hear about early voting as an option, the more likely they are to take advantage of it,” Benson said at a press conference.

That was part of about 1 million early votes, including absentee. That represents a 13% increase over the pre-Election Day turnout in 2020, Benson said.

The process leading up to the election was hectic, clerks said. In Keweenaw County, local poll workers were not able to receive their final training until the Thursday before voting began, Carlson said.

“It was a very stressful time, but once we got it going, that was easy,” she said.

The early results will not be tabulated before 8 p.m. Election Day. Instead of using a Virtual Private Network to transfer results, the tabulator cards from each precinct will be uploaded manually to a computer with no internet, Kelly said.

The change came as a result of a recommendation in Proposal 2, Kelly said.

“We were going through such a secure site, and we never had a problem,” she said. “But now we’re going to do it this way, and so be it.”

The state has allocated $46 million to help implement early voting, including $30 million to help set up early voting systems.

The five Keweenaw County townships will share the cost of the voting facility, Carlson said.

In Houghton County, equipment funding from the state had provided funding for four tabulators, three ballot-on-demand machines and three printers for them, three scanners, and three laptops for the poll book.

“That is enough where if these voting centers grow and I wanted to put one in Houghton, put one in Calumet, and put one in Adams or Laird (townships), we could have three spread out for the nine days,” Kelly said. “Or I can keep them all at one center. It just depends on our voters’ needs and wants.”

Kelly is hoping to get money from the state to cover wages and other expenses for the voting center, but hasn’t received word on that.

Kelly had requested $150,000 from the state for the election. That did not include things like food, which she estimated cost about $500 for workers over the nine days. She also had to order a sign to put outside the early voting center; workers brought in a couple of items themselves, she said.

“It hasn’t been easy,” she said. “But the workers did so well. We were 100% on with the amount showing how many ballots went on the tabulator with how many applications. I’m so happy.”

For the February election, Houghton County had been able to use one tabulator for all precincts. August and November’s ballots will be double-sided, which could require up to three tabulators, Kelly said. She may also need additional workers.

Once clerks have reported their expenditures from the February primary, the state can develop a clear estimate for funding allocations for August and November, Benson said. Funding will come from the state for the first year.

“Our partnership at the statewide level is secure with our clerks, and we find it to be our responsibility to ensure they can cover their costs through state funding or other sources of funding,” Benson said.

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